As noted elsewhere on this blog, Florida’s erstwhile Attorney General, former congressman Bill McCollum (R), has put himself firmly up front in taking the fight to British Petroleum on behalf of constituents slated to possibly lose everything as a result of the 4/20 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. He’d just recently sent BP officials a letter asking them to lift any and all caps on liability on their part for the damage caused by the oil spill, then followed that up (May 20) asking BP to assume liability for any damages that may occur if the oily Gulf waters are stirred up and thrown into the mainland by hurricane-force winds. (The Atlantic season begins in less than a week.)
After waiting four days to respond, BP’s Managing Attorney, Mark Holstein, dismissed the substance of McCollum’s concerns using the now-familiar tones of conceit and contempt that has defined his company’s public face during this crisis. “Your letter focuses on a concern that a hurrican event may result in oil washing further inland than otherwise would happen … Of course, we are not able to resolve today how BP would react to every hypothetical situation that might be considered in this regard,” he writes, before claiming theoretical obeisance to the outdated (and hopefully soon revised) Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
Whereas McCollum was once willing to express trust and confidence in BP, his response to Holstein, dated May 25, suggests that he now realizes what he’s dealing with–a concerted, top-down effort to cover-up the true extent of the damage, not to mention the increasing specter of real legal trouble for all companies involved. “I am … disturbed in both its tone and content,” McCollum writes. “The threat of oil being deposited inland by a tropical storm or hurricane is not a ‘hypothetical situation’ but an almost certainty. It is incredible that BP is not prepared to acknowledge or accept responsibility for the consequences of this devastating oil spill even at this late date.” He goes on to note “There is no statutory limit on BP’s liability for natural resource and other liability” under Florida Statutes.
As previously reported, that May 20 letter to BP referencing oil and hurricanes was the first formal acknowledgment of that awful possibility–an idea that has now attracted bipartisan concern. McCollum’s third letter to BP, dated May 25, raises a new and potentially explosive (literally) question: What is/was the extent of illegal labor activity in BP’s offshore business before and after the explosion? McCollum begins by referencing the case of 11 illegal aliens caught loading oil booms in Panama City May 19. They were apparently subcontracted through Eagle-SWS, a BP contractor based in Jacksonville. He notes that they were arrested for using stolen Social Security numbers on their applications–a crucial fact. Where did the stolen numbers come from? McCollum is probably looking into that right now.
“It is … essential that BP, to the maximum extent possible, retain local workers for response and recovery efforts, especially those whose livelihoods were disrupted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. For these individuals, the hiring of illegally present foreign nationals only serves to compound the economic catastrophe they are now experiencing.” Obviously, this is a big job, and the Gulf Coast needs all the able bodies it can muster for this hurculean clean-up effort; while one hopes the preference is given to the hundreds of thousands (at least) unemployed American laborers in the immediate vicinity, some of those job will inevitably go to illegals.
It’s unclear if Eagle-SWS was involved in any way in any of the work done on the rig. But if the job involved building materials (like concrete) in this region, odds are that illegals touched it at some point. If BP, Transocean, Halliburton or its contractors used a single illegal worker on the Deepwater Horizon, that is a huge issue. If any illegals were involved in the actual work that led directly to the explosion (a matter still under investigation, assiduously blocked by BP), the legal issues for these companies increase exponentially. Other sources have noted that the foreign registrations of BP/Transocean, as well as the location of rig, left them with less regulatory oversight than American-based rigs; and, as is now clear, these companies violated what little regulations were in place.
This blog notes, at this point, that there were 126 workers officially on board the Deepwater Horizon when it blew up. 79 were employed by Transocean, 6 by BP, and 41 were contracted from elsewhere; all of them, particularly the 41 contract employees, maybe deserve another look by the relevant authorities. While the names of those killed were released, survivors have kept relatively quiet. One might assume the media would be quite eager to have any first-hand testimony or expertise at play. Instead, it’s as if anyone who ever worked an offshore rig started their summer vacations early. Also note that several BP executives were also on board the rig at the time–celebrating its safety record, if such ironies are believable.
While McCollum’s own ambitions would have him elsewhere by the time legal maneuvers really get started, whomever holds the AG spot in 2011 will be poised to pursue massive civil and criminal charges against relevant personnel in the slimy stew of multinational corporations contributing to this debacle, which many have now declared to be the worst environmental catastrophe in American history. All things considered, we may all be lucky that the catastrophe wasn’t much worse than it turned out to be. And the fact that it could have been much worse should be reason enough for Americans to demand more oversight of these operations, literally from top to bottom.
firstname.lastname@example.org; May 26, 2010